Worlds of wonder

Gift books can be tickets to another realm

December 21 1992

Worlds of wonder

Gift books can be tickets to another realm

December 21 1992

Worlds of wonder


Gift books can be tickets to another realm

In a season traditionally associated with peace and good will, Shadows of War, Faces of Peace (Key Porter, $29.95), is a poignant reminder of the vital role that Canadians have played in attempting to achieve those goals. The book is a tribute to the more than 80,000 Canadian peacekeepers who have served in every United Nations mission since 1947. It intersperses background material by Toronto historian J. L. Granatstein with blackand-white photographs, including the evoca-

The grey skies and harsh weather of a Canadian winter are a challenge to even the hardiest northerner. Luckily, the holiday season provides some relief. And with their sumptuous photographs and illustrations, gift books offer escapist pleasure to those who are beaten down by the elements. An eclectic selection of some of the year’s most beautiful, unusual and absorbing books, chosen by Maclean’s editors and writers:

tive pictures of award-winning Toronto Star photojoumalist Boris Spremo, and with recollections written by several peacekeepers themselves. In one account, Maj. Philip Cook, who served in war-tom Beirut in 1983 and 1984, recalls throwing his Christmas tree out after the holidays only to discover that a group of teenage militiamen had replanted it in front of his apartment building. “These young warriors, who had known only the horrors of war since birth,” he writes, “were planting this tree in hopes of rejuvenation, not unlike their own hopes for the future.”

A fascinating picture of Canada’s past emerges in Peter C. Newman’s Canada— 1892: Portrait of a Promised Land (McClelland & Stewart and Penguin, $50), which offers proof that some things never change. In 1892, regional differences were threatening to tear Canada apart, while the economy was struggling in a worldwide recession. But, paradoxically, it was also an era of

growth and optimism: the book’s splendid photographs, both historical and contemporary, show how the great Victorian building projects of the 1890s shaped the character of presentday Canadian cities. The survival of many of those edifices, which include Quebec City’s Château Frontenac, suggest a deep-rooted continuity and are a moving affirmation of the nation’s ability to endure. Newman also evokes the rigorous moral climate of the 1890s. In one of his inimitable metaphors, he describes Victorian Toronto as “a sort of Calvinist Tehran, watched over by the black-suited mullahs of the local Protestant denominations.”

The past century of a profession gets stunning documentary treatment in Medicine’s Great Journey: One Hundred Years of Healing (Little, Brown, $62). One of the book’s most astonishing photographs depicts hooded men in dark cloaks carrying a sick man on a hospital litter. It looks like a death procession in a medieval pageant, but in fact it is a real-life scene in Florence, Italy, around 1900. And the sick man is suffering from bubonic plague. That such a dreaded disease still claimed many victims as recently as then is perhaps the strongest illustration of just how far Western medicine has advanced in the past 100 years. The book features an intelligent text by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Richard Fiaste. And the 179 spectacular photographs, which range from Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s African clinic to a surgeon directing a laser beam during eye surgery, put a human

face on medicine’s many achievements.

The Titanic has become the stuff of legend since it sank off the coast of Labrador during its maiden voyage from London to New York City 80 years ago. Now, with Titanic: An Illustrated History (Viking, $65), American historian Don Lynch chronicles the steamer’s story from the start-up of construction in 1909 to its discovery by American explorer Robert Ballard in 1985. Lynch examines such details as the last songs played by the ship’s orchestra (Nearer My God. to Thee and Alexander’s Ragtime Band). Illustrated with hundreds of archival photographs, as well as paintings and sketches by Titanic expert Ken Marschall, the book is a near-exhaustive tour of the distinguished but doomed vessel.

Three new books devoted to rhapsodies of the deep have surfaced this season. Guardians of the Whales: The Quest to Study Whales in the Wild (Whitecap, $34.95) is the most modest—and the most focused. Writer Bruce Obee and photographer Graeme Ellis, both based on Vancouver Island, offer a unique glimpse not just of whales, but of the scientists who study them. Remarkable photographs show sleek orcas flying over the waves, barnacled grey whales nuzzling boats and batmobilelike humpbacks heaving into the air. The book’s strength, however, is a compelling text that traces the evolution of whale science, from the collect-and-dissect methods of the 1960s to the current practice of identifying and tracking whales in their natural habitat by their so-

called fingerprint sounds and markings.

Environmentalism also serves as the ballast for Saving the Oceans (Key Porter, $50), which combines colorful photographs of marine life with maps, illustrations and nine incisive essays. Edited by Toronto-based Dr. Joseph Maclnnis, the first man to dive beneath the North Pole, the book begins with his story of descending three miles below the surface of the Arctic Ocean. Other contributors explore ocean frontiers ranging from the endangered garden of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to the spooky depths of a volcanic abyss. The book promotes a love for the sea in all its complexity. And it raises an educated cry of alarm, showing that, for all its size and power, the ocean is not invincible to pollution.

By contrast, Pacific: An Undersea Journey (Little, Brown, $62) appears to have no mandate but beauty. It is gorgeous, the ultimate glass-bottomed coffee-table tour of marine enchantment. A gallery of exquisite pictures by National Geographic photographer David Doubilet, it is as much an art book as a science book, a Yellow Submarine tom: of the deep. Doubilet’s vivid images of marine life swim into divine abstraction. But he also captures personalities: one shot depicts the leering mug of a black cod swimming from a wreck.

Embracing Earth (Raincoast, $49.95) views the environment from a much less intimate, more austere perspective—outer space. But its images, harvested from satellites and space shuttles, often display a similar level of lyrical abstraction. A hurricane seen from

space becomes a swirl of cotton candy. The dunes of a Saudi Arabian desert resemble the ridged bark of a tree. Many of the pictures are not optical photographs, but images from remote sensors that map shifts in temperature, vegetation or microwave radiation. American authors Payson Stevens and Kevin Kelley use the panoramas to explain the natural rhythms of the earth—and how man’s visible presence is disrupting them.

Another volume that features glimpses of the planet from on high is Over Europe (Raincoast, $50), a breathtaking pictorial collection with an eloquent text by Jan Morris. Beginning soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, 14 aerial cameramen embarked on blimps, balloons, helicopters and planes to photograph the newly reunified continent. Among the more memorable shots: an eerie district of Warsaw, stacked with rows of grey apartment blocks, and a 1,730-foot mountain in the Republic of Ireland, known locally as “bare Ben Bulben’s head,” which Morris describes as “a great velvet pin cushion.”

Land-bound photography is featured in photographer-writer Victor Englebert’s splendid Wind, Sand & Silence: Travels with Africa’s Last Nomads (Raincoast, $45), an ideal choice for armchair travellers. The Belgianborn author, a veteran photojoumalist, has spent 26 years living and wandering with African nomads. Englebert has an eye for the exotic and colorful, but he also captures the humanity of his subjects.

For movie enthusiasts, two new books detail the making of two of the greatest films of all

time. Lawrence of Arabia: The 30th Anniversary Pictorial History (Doubleday, $45), by Canadians L. Robert Morris and Lawrence Raskin (and with a foreword by Martin Scorsese), is a lavishly illustrated and impeccably researched dissection of the 1962 David Lean film. Although the writing is sometimes pedantic, Morris, a film expert, and Raskin, an Arabist, bring an unmistakable enthusiasm to their detailed study. Similarly, Round Up the Usual Suspects: The Making of Casablanca—Bogart, Bergman and World War II (Little, Brown, $29.95), by former New York Times film correspondent Aljean Harmetz, offers some startling revelations about the 1942 wartime drama. At one point, she tells how As Time Goes By, arguably the most famous musical theme in movie history, was almost cut by producer Hal Wallis. Her book, like Morris and Raskin’s Lawrence of Arabia, is affectionate but clear-eyed.

Few contemporary musicians have fascinated and bewildered the public so much as Bob Dylan. And Dylan: a man called alias (Penguin, $40), by British journalist and die-hard Dylan fan Richard Williams, presents the many faces of a musical chameleon. Combining many little-seen photographs with an intelligent text, the book traces Dylan’s career from his start in Hibbing, Minn., to his current stature as a sometimes indifferent pop-music deity. Williams’s account is straightforward, insightful— and candid about Dylan’s many artistic lapses in the past 15 years.

Jazz writer Gene Lees and photographer John Reeves have produced Jazz Lives (McClelland & Stewart, $50), profiling and portraying 100 musicians arranged by age, from trombonist Spiegle Willcox, 89, to bass player Christian McBride, 20. Toronto-based Reeves has avoided traditional, smoke-filled performance scenes in favor of tight close-ups, reproduced in rich duotone. Although they

have a cramped quality, the photographs are arresting and perceptive. And Lees’s miniprofiles abound with anecdotes. He describes how Maynard Ferguson, as a student in Montreal, was assigned to play his trumpet at flag raisings, even in winter. Lees reports that Oscar Peterson “watched from the warmth of the building, laughing maniacally.”

The season’s books on art include the reissue of a classic. Definitive is a dangerous adjective, but George Swinton’s 1972 book, Sculpture of the Eskimo, was certainly one of the finest books ever assembled on the subject. Twenty years later, the Winnipeg-based scholar has produced a revised version under the more politically correct title Sculpture of the Inuit (McClelland & Stewart, $75). More than 900 photographs, most of them black and white, convey the haunting expressionism of Inuit carving. In a new section, Swinton notes that some of the most gifted young artists of the Far North are pursuing brave new directions in their work, even as they celebrate the traditions of the past.

One of the season’s most substantial art books is Claude Monet: Life and Work (Canadian Manda, $81.25), by Australian art historian Virginia Spate. A volume for serious art lovers, it combines 300 illustrations, 135 of them in color (including some sublime two-page spreads of the Givemy pond canvases), with a detailed, somewhat academic text that still manages to bring the great French impressionist painter to life. A more accessible book is The Lost Impressionists: Masterpieces from Private Collections (Key Porter, $50), which reproduces, in vibrant color, 92 mostly little-known works by artists ranging from American Mary Cassatt to Dutch-bom Vincent van Gogh. For lovers of oriental art, Homage to Heaven, Homage to Earth: Chinese Treasures of the Royal Ontario Museum (University of Toronto Press, $95) is a stunning

volume featuring the Toronto museum’s worldfamous collection. The book’s 140 color photographs depict 300 exquisite objects ranging from eleventh-century stoneware pillows to an 18th-century carved ivory basket.

Combining art and a mysterious text, Sabine’s Notebook (Raincoast, $21.95) is the sequel to British Columbian Nick Bantock’s groundbreaking 1991 best-seller, Griffin & Sabine. Like its enigmatic predecessor, Sabine’s Notebook presents the fictional correspondence, including original postcards and illustrated letters, of two artists, Londoner Griffin Moss and South Sea islander Sabine Strohern. The new volume lacks the sense of discovery that made Griffin & Sabine such a delight: the two epistolary lovers, who have never actually met, fail to reveal much more about themselves. Still, Bantock’s alternately witty and exquisite graphics more than compensate for the failings of the text.

Books, say the 40 writers featured in The Pleasures of Reading (Random House, $35), are an addiction from which they do not wish to recover. Edited by novelist and biographer Antonia Fraser, the 252-page volume compiles short conversational sketches from literary figures including Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood and Brian Moore, about what they read—and why. Their accounts are passionate, eloquent and funny, and their choices both marvelously eclectic and reassuringly familiar. The authors list everything from Shakespeare to the Los Angeles Yellow Pages, and the best remember how their choices brought them liberation, laughter, solace, escape, wonder and inspiration. This season’s gift books evoke the same feelings. □